Smelly Wiper Fluid



Hello. I have an 05 Honda Element. Whenever I use the windshield washers a horrible vomit like smell enters the car. the smell often remains for days. The dealership said that the wiper fluid reservoir need to be replaced and would cost several hundred dollars. We asked if it could just clean it out and they said this would involve taking the front of the car off and would cost as much due to the labor. Im looking for a cheaper alternative. Maybe an additive or something I can do myself to fix this. Any thoughts?


Clean the reservoir yourself, what’s the big deal? Fill it with soapy water and empty it with a siphon. You could also use the washer pump itself to drain the reservoir, directing the hose’s outflow into a bucket. That might take longer. Whatever method you choose, this is NOT a job for an automotive expert.


I don’t own an Element, but If I did, I’d open the hood and look at the fluid reservoir. Can you see how it is attached? Does it look like there is room to get at it without disassembling the car? And you do not have to remove it to drain it. Get a 5-foot length of rubber or Tygon tubing and a couple of empty milk jugs (if you need more than one). Stick one end of the tube into the reservoir and suck on the other end until it is at least half full. You might want to get a siphoning device if you want to be absolutely certain that you can’t suck the washer fluid into your mouth. Then pinch the tube to hold the pressure and put the free end into the milk jug. You should be able to empty the reservoir, mostly. You can fill it half way with water and repeat the siphon. Do it another time if you like. Then fill it with whatever fluid you like. Since it’s summer, why not just use water and see how your Element smells after you wash the windows?


Good suggestions here, but I would rather use a pump rather than suck out stuff that usually contains methanol, but smells like vomit. You might try an inexpensive bellows pump that is made to syphon fuel. It might take a trip to a hardware store for some smaller flexible tubing and some barbed adaptors to hook it up.

On second thought, a wet/dry vac might work well with some stout, but flexible tubing and some barbed adaptors or maybe some duct tape. That is where I would be going!


I used to have an Element. Great vehicle! The dealer is partially right…to remove the washer fluid tank, you do have to remove the front end of the vehicle (the big piece around the headlights, grille, and front bumper). But it is SO EASY to do on an Element! With a flat-blade screwdriver and a socket wrench, it is possible to have that entire piece off in 10-15 minutes. No I’m not kidding…I did it twice when I had my Element…once to install foglights, and again to install a louder horn.

Open the hood, and look at the plastic cover over the radiator. See those little things that look like black plastic rivets? A bunch of those and either 2 or 4 bolts hold the entire front clip in place. Take the flat-blade screwdriver, put it in the notch conveniently provided on those clips, push the tip of the screwdriver under the center section of the clip, and gently twist the screwdriver till the center section of the clip pops up. You can now remove that clip. There are several of those by the radiator that would need to be removed (maybe 5-10 of them), and about another 5-10 on the underside of the front end…stick your head under the front bumper and you’ll see them. The socket can be used to remove the small bolts that are at the leading edge of the front wheel well…there’s either one or two per side. The entire front end will come off once you’ve removed all the clips and those little bolts. The front end is very light and easily moved by one person. For re-installation I’d recommend two people though…a second set of hands will help when trying to line up the front end around the wheel wells.

The washer fluid bottle is on the passenger side, up in front of the front wheel. Remove it, clean it with your choice of cleaner, reinstall it, put your front end back on, and you’re done. One hour maximum.

For more info on Elements, go to and look around the forums there. GREAT bunch of Element enthusiasts there who can answer pretty much any question about the E that you might have.



I can tell you what I would do- I’d disinfect it in place. Those things are designed last to fit in between everything else and not easy to remove. This will clean the bottle and lines.

My vehicles can blow through washer fluid in no time so I wouldn’t worry about the pump. That being said, they’re not meant for continuous duty so I’d probably run it periodically with some time to rest in-between. First, I’d disconnect the outlet line at the most convenient location (bottle, T or at the wipers for example) and put it into a suitable sized container. Flush all the old fluid out into the container. Smell it. Does it smell bad? Yes, you’re on the right track. No, time to look elsewhere.

Now mix up a batch of disinfecting concentration of bleach and water. Fill reservior and let sit for 30 minutes. Now flush it out. Repeat as necessary and then flush with clear water. Fill with washer fluid.


Change brands of washer fluid.

With the alcohol content of washer fluid, I doubt too many little beasties would be living in it. I thinkyour problem is with the fluid itself.


I have a foul smell in my washer fluid reservoir when I have stale summer washer fluid that uses no methanol in it. I think it is an organic compound that goes sour and smells like puke. So the only way to deal with that is to just use water in summer, or change washer fluid before it has a chance to sour. Summer fluid I have used also gets particles forming in it making me wonder if the pump screen would get clogged and make the pump not pump, but that has never happened.


Another thing to consider. What if the smell isn’t coming from the washer fluid? What if there’s something down in the intake vent below the windshield? And whatever it is doesn’t produce a smell as long as it’s dehydrated? But once the washers are used, the water in the fluid rehydrates whatever is down there, and then the smell lasts for days?